Sunday, August 5, 2012
THE BOY WHO CRIED WEREWOLF (1973)
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological*
THE BOY WHO CRIED WEREWOLF-- the last directorial outing for Nathan Juran and nearly the last acting-job for Juran's former Sinbad-actor Kerwin Matthews (in SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD)-- sports a quirky psychological setup. The script-- the only imdb writing-credit for Bob Homel, who also plays the equally quirky role of "Brother Christopher" in CRIED-- is much more adventurous than the average werewolf yarn. Had the characters been developed with greater attention to detail, this might have been a classic in the subgenre. As it is, though it has some cheesy moments it still shows more imagination than many higher-budgeted werewolf yarns.
If the recently-reviewed HANDS OF THE RIPPER is like a textbook Freudian horror-film, CRIED reads in places like an anti-Freudian response. In one familiar refutation of Freud, it's been observed that if, as Freud intimated, little boys really coveted their mothers and despised their fathers as castrating rivals, none of them would ever be sorry to see the father out of the way as the result of a divorce. Experience does not validate Freud's supposition. CRIED follows that more realistic train of thought through its viewpoint character, grade-schooler Richie Bridgeston.
At the start of the film, Richie's parents Robert and Sandy have been divorced for some time. Their background is sketchy except for one bit of information: on those weekends when Robert has custody of Richie, the father customarily takes his son for regular camping-trips at a family-owned cabin in the woods. However, on one of those trips, a mysterious drifter with animalistic features emerges from the forest and attacks Richie. Robert comes to his son's defense and manages to kick the attacker off a cliff, where he dies, impaled on a tree-branch. However, the violent man of the woods bites Robert in the scuffle.
Initially, Richie is thrilled that his father vanquished the attacker, whom Richie views as a "werewolf" early on, though both his parents and the local sheriff think the stranger was just a madman. Richie's repeated celebrations of his father's heroism show that he's very much attached to his father as a male role model. But the attractions of violence have a definite downside. On a subsequent trip to the woods, Richie is again pursued by a hirsute male monster, but he soon learns that it's his own father, the new inheritor of the werewolf curse.
In contrast to the many smartass kid-heroes of later films, Richie responds to this bizarre situation with genuine-kid bewilderment and helplessness. The only adult who even partly believes Richie-- mother Sandy's psychoanalyst-- thinks that Richie is merely using a colorful metaphor to express his ambivalence to his father's capacity for fatal violence. Late in the film the psychoanalyst begins to wonder about the reality of werewolves, but he's killed off-camera by Robert. This is one indication that in werewolf-form Robert isn't just a killing-machne a la Larry Talbot, but has some limited ability to think and chase down perceived enemies-- though in human form Robert doesn't remember his murderous acts.
One of the movie's oddest twists is that in the same forest as the Bridgeston family cabin, a group of hippie-like Jesus freaks have chosen to camp. As noted earlier, the group is led by the raffish Brother Christopher, whose devotion to Christianity is sincere even if he and his flock are presented as oddballs, particularly to the sour-faced local constable.
The Jesus freaks figure into one of the film's oddest moments. During one of Robert's forest-rampages, he bursts in upon the hippies' camp, but they actually manage to repel him with the power of their prayers. Later in the film, Sandy decides that Richie's ravings stem from his desire to see his parents reunited-- which does reflect the boy's sentiments prior to the werewolf incident. Thus she accompanies Robert and Richie on their next outing. Prior to reaching the cabin, the three of them encounter the Jesus-hippies holding a convocation against the demonic powers in the forest. To humor the hippies, Sandy and Richie step into their "sacred circle" of prayer-- but when Robert tries, he finds to his horror that he can't enter. Only at this point does he realize that the horrible truth of his son's accusations.
The next time Robert changes, the sheriff and several deputized citizens go hunting for what they still believe to be a marauding beast. The climax ensues at the Jesus camp, where the citizens riddle the wolfman with bullets that hurt him but don't kill him. In a fit of ferocity, Robert bites his son on the arm, as if intentionally trying to pass on the curse-- and then perishes when a volley of shots causes him to fall back onto the jagged point of a shattered wooden cross.
There are certainly some odd twists to contemplate in CRIED. Given that Richie really does love his father, despite fearing his werewolf self, why does werewolf-Robert take revenge by biting his son and implicitly passing on the curse? Is it just the viciousness of his beastly persona? If Homel intended to imply that the father was angry at his son for a perceived betrayal, the implication wasn't well communicated.
The Christian subtext doesn't track too well, either. The hippies think that the werewolf is a demon, but there's no real explanation of what the curse stems from: one can only assume that, as in many such stories, the curse has just been passed down from victim to victim over some unguessable period of time. Yet, though the Jesus-hippies are a little silly, their faith has a real effect on Robert, in that he can't pass their circle. At the same time, werewolves in this universe don't need Christian trappings to destroy them: while Robert dies on the remnants of a cross, the drifter dies on an ordinary piece of wood. For that matter, the whole notion of killing a werewolf via impalement seems arbitrarily borrowed from vampire mythology, possibly because the writer couldn't figure any way to bring silver into the story (though the script does briefly reference the way Larry Talbot dies in 1941's WOLF MAN).
Still, for all the odd turns the story takes, they make CRIED one of the more inventive entries in the genre of werewolf-dramas.